Cooks vs. Servers: Wage battle continues

Servers' pay is often double that of chefs

The cooks at Victory 44 work like a team: A few primarily play offense (taking orders, clearing plates) and a few play defense (cooking), though each player can shift between roles when necessary. If a cook finishes the last ticket in his queue, he might run the food out himself instead of waiting for a teammate, even though it's likely he might arrive at the table sweating and wafting the scent of burnt arm hair.

Harcey describes his core team—James Winberg, Geoff Hausmann, and Mike Brown—as guys who are able to cook well but also be "socially acceptable enough that we can let 'em out in front of other people." (Harcey says he relegates himself to the kitchen. "I'm probably the worst server on the floor. I just don't have the skills.")

The new Victory 44—Victory 2.0—made me feel a little like I was hanging out at a fraternity house kitchen, with a Current-worthy playlist blaring and questions being shouted between the dining room and the stoves. Our server used the phrase "right on" and carried around a torch that seemed better suited to plumbing work than dining room service. It was like a bunch of guys had gotten together to tinker with something, but instead of overhauling a Camaro engine they were cooking up whimsical gourmet fare.

At Victory 44, cooks double as servers, though owner Erick Harcey (top) stays in the kitchen.
Jana Freiband
At Victory 44, cooks double as servers, though owner Erick Harcey (top) stays in the kitchen.

Location Info


Black Forest Inn

1 E. 26th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Category: Restaurant > German

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

For example, one dish arrived in a deep bowl, looking like one of those tiny snow globe worlds: a Monet haystack of house-made noodles in a tangled coil, a rectangular tower of pig trotter, and a halved quail egg that resembled a pair of yellow eyes peering up. Our server-cook flooded the scene with a kimchi-infused consommé, and the result was delicious. The rich, lightly spiced broth was spiked with bites of egg, salty meat sinews, and sweet bits of date that had been tucked into the trotter.

Our server's only slip was neglecting to tell us the noodles were not completely cooked and that we should deconstruct the stack so the noodles were heated by the broth. Instead, we lingered over our previous course and the clumped noodles tasted floury and raw.

But his culinary expertise, in general, provided us with more information that heightened our enjoyment of the dishes. For example, when we asked about the sweetness in the bottom of a bowl of duck agnolotti: Was it honey? He confirmed our suspicions by bringing out a large blue tin of honey imported from Tasmania and let us take a heady whiff of the orange-colored, floral-scented goo.

The kitchen reaches peak fervor with its charcuterie and dessert plates. The first is an abundant diorama of everything from headcheese to sweetbread terrine, decorated with caper berries, cornichons, streaks of mustard, and coils and curls of foie gras mousse and pickled vegetable puree that resemble decorative frosting on birthday cakes. The dessert tray is presented like an architectural model: a scoop of chocolate mousse topping a meringue pedestal, a donut hole accompanied by artful smears of yuzu and cherry purees, and tres leches cake topped with a chocolate wafer that our server melted tableside with the previously mentioned construction torch. It's a lot of prep for an $8 dessert, and it's also a lot of dessert. My friend and I persuaded the couple at the neighboring table to split it with us—how's that for cultivating community?

The chef-as-server setup has its kinks; perhaps it was the reason for the lengthy stretch that elapsed between the moment we received our first course and the time our server returned to let us order our second. But Harcey says that having employees who have a broader perspective of the business should help continue to streamline the process. The cooks may not always clear from the right or tell funny jokes, but their knowledge of and enthusiasm for the food seem to make up for any lack of finesse. It wouldn't work at every restaurant, but for a casual, neighborhood place like Victory 44, I think the arrangement fits.

Plus, sharing all the gratuities gives the cooks greater incentive to do their best work. "They can make the wages of an executive sous chef or a chef in a small restaurant," Harcey says. "They earn the money that they deserve." 

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